Interview: A World that Works for Everyone with Bill Cumming

Bill Cumming, is a coach, business consultant, trainer and mentor and Director of The Boothby Institute, a non-profit organisation dedicated to allowing people to discover the capacities that reside within and create opportunities for people to take charge of their own lives by understanding their inherent value as human beings.

How did you come to realise that we all have the capacity for love?

On the day one of my children was raped, I learned that I had the capacity to kill. Six months later, an admitted murderer and rapist demonstrated loving-kindness toward me and I realised that the capacity for everything resides within all of us. The question is what do we water?

Before we begin to explore what each of us can do in order to eliminate the violence in our society, we must come to a basic agreement about the causes of that violence. Unfortunately, my research into the root causes of violence in our society was dramatically escalated thirty-six years ago when one of my children was raped at the age of eight. We needed a quart of milk and a can of Comet. This was a middle class suburb of Akron, Ohio on a bright sunny afternoon. The grocery store was across a large field, easy walking without crossing any streets. I could see no reason not to let her go.

A man in his late teens or early twenties stopped my daughter on the way back from the store to ask her to help him find a dog he claimed was lost. As it turned out, there was no dog. He covered her mouth, dragged her behind a hedge and raped her. Bloodied and scared to death, Joy made it home. The emergency room and the police added to the trauma, though staffs in both organisations were relatively well trained and generally sensitive; unusual for 1979. Joy survived physically and mentally. Years later she would tell me that when I would acknowledge her courage, the truth was she was putting on a good act. She is well, a great person, the State Adjutant/Chief Communicator for the Massachusetts VFW.

On that day I discovered that I could kill and would have, I am sure, if I had caught the man then or probably within a year. That makes me no different than any other killer.

We took care of each other and not much else. Returning to Maine, our psychological home, we began to search for answers to where this kind of violence originates and what are its root causes. I read everything I could get my hands on and listened to anyone who made any sense at all. One day at noontime I had the television on and picked up about half an hour of the Donahue program (which, in 1979, was addressing important issues.). The guests were Dr. Nick Groth as well as a number of convicted violent sex-offenders, shown only behind an opaque screen in order to protect their identity. At the time Dr. Groth headed the sex-offender program in Connecticut housed at the maximum-security prison at Somers. Even in the few minutes I heard, I knew that there was real truth, no matter how harsh, coming through this conversation. Knowing that the program was recorded at another time and wanting to hear more, I called the prison and asked to speak to Dr. Groth. He was in and took the call. I explained who I was and that I truly wanted to know the real root causes of random violence in our society. I explained why it was important to me and that I wanted to see if I could do something that might be of use.

Nick told me the only way to really understand was to come and spend a day inside Somers. Having not a clue as to what I was getting into, I agreed. As I drove the roughly five hours from Phippsburg, Maine to Somers, Connecticut, my emotions were all over the place. I wanted to do this.

Why did I want to do this? I was going to meet and talk with people just like the person who had raped my daughter less than a year ago. Was I crazy?

Should I turn back? How would I react? Could I keep a civil tongue? Would any of this make any difference? When you enter a maximum-security prison, it is clear by what you are asked to do that this is serious business. Razor wire is everywhere. Once identified and checked in, you surrender your wallet (identification, credit cards and money are coins of the realm), your keys, your glasses (because the metal arms make a great weapon) and your belt. After you pass through the third or fourth steel gate or observation area, you know you are inside. At that point, feeling absolutely no more confident than on the drive down, I meet Nick for the first time. The first group of inmates we spoke with was on break in an open area. Engaging them in conversation, Nick asked how they got there, who was responsible for them being in prison. The stories varied and there was a long list of those responsible, mother, father, judge, cop, lawyer, a gang, teachers, bad breaks and finally the victim, “If only the bitch hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have killed her.” I was greatly relieved when Nick said it was time to move on. It crossed my mind that I would probably say something that might upset this group and I could be the next reason for violence.

Nick took me to an area in the prison where we met with a number of inmates, all of whom he had worked with for at least a year. They too had awful stories about their childhood. One man in particular told of being locked in a closet for ten days at a time. He explained that that was where he ate, slept, urinated and defecated and that it was easier to be in the closet than deal with the repeated beatings and sexual attacks by his father and his father’s friends when they were on a drunken rampage.

We spent hours in that same room, talking about violence, its causes, my anger, their crimes and their lives now. All of these inmates were lifers with no possibility of parole. This conversation was not being recorded. To a person, these men knew that they had been the cause of their own criminal lives. Were there mitigating factors of childhood abuse, violence and criminal neglect? Absolutely. They now knew that they had absorbed this violence and made their own. One man who had committed three combination rape/ murders came to me at the end of the day, at a time when no one else was in earshot. This man told me that he was deeply sorry that my daughter had been raped. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he meant it from the bottom of his heart. That was the beginning of two very powerful learnings. The vast majority of people who commit violent acts (over 95% of all convicted violent criminals) were themselves the victims of physical, sexual or verbal abuse. Terrorists invariably see themselves righting a wrong, either real or imagined, triggered by a climate of or direct experience with violence.

What I learned in this unusual laboratory is that it is possible, given two critical factors, for even the most violent people to develop meaningful, productive, contributory lives, even within the confines of a maximum security prison.

The fact that this is so speaks volumes in terms of what we can do.

How did you first share your message?

One person at a time with whomever would listen.

What motivates you to go into dangerous environments to share it?

I am willing to go anywhere I can be of use or my presence is requested.

Nick Groth led me to vast amounts of information. The most important piece he gave me was about why he had been able to get through to these men at Somers. I assumed it was his training, degrees, and his scholarship. Nick assured me they were not it. The degrees were a factor and the critical factor from Nick’s point of view was getting these individuals to know that they are loved (i.e. cared about, valued) and that they are able to make choices. Nick had been successful in separating these men from their behavior powerfully enough for them to realise they were worth something. Why else would a group of men spend an extended day talking with the father of a child that was raped? It must have been like being with the fathers of their own victims. If it is possible in this environment, with these men, it is possible at every moment in every environment with anyone.

What is required is a conscious commitment on the part of all of us to be part of the solution. It is not complicated and it is going to require merciless discipline on everyone’s part.

Why is it so difficult for us as a society to accept that violence comes from violence? What needs to happen so that people understand that each second is either a positive contribution to a person’s development or a detriment to it? Is it that we are afraid that we have some responsibility in the matter?

The behavior we fear the most is within us.

The most important misconception that must be done away with is the notion that there is nothing we can do. Every single person alive today is either part of the solution or part of the problem. We simply need to start telling the truth about it. Each person, regardless of their role or responsibility in every society has an opportunity to contribute. Some actions are more obvious than others and no one is without a choice to be made. Some of them are going to require drastic changes in attitude and/ or behavior. Some are going to require shifts in our national and personal priorities.

People who are well, know that they are loved and are powerful enough to make good choices, don’t damage other people. All of the damage in our society comes from people who do not feel well about themselves. Well people don’t shoot their classmates. Well people don’t rape children or anyone else. Well people don’t beat their spouses. Well people don’t engage in road rage. Well people do not mock or verbally assault their peers. Well people don’t create puppet governments with tyrants as leaders and ignore or worse abuse the rest of the country’s population. Well people do not allow tens of thousands of people to die needlessly each week of hunger, starvation and persistent hunger. Well people don’t kill anyone. Well people don’t damage others. Period.

What do you have to say to sceptics?

I give them room to be sceptical, love them and ask them to see what they experience as we move along the path. The more we communicate with each other in the space of love, the sooner we will have a world that works for everyone.

What is your greatest hope?

That in my lifetime or perhaps this afternoon, we can manifest a world that works for everyone.

We will simply have to decide what kind of society we want to live in and what its values will be.

Watch Bill’s Tedx talk here.
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on PinterestBuffer this pageShare on RedditShare on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page